All is O.K. with Christopher Kline!
After spending a day of O.K. – The Musical providing a wonderful insight into community, from Liverpool to the director’s own hometown of Kinderhook, Nikie Azlli sits down with the mastermind behind it all, Christopher Kline, and discusses what he wants people to take away and learn from it.
See Nikie’s review of her day at O.K. – The Musical here!
Nikie Azlli: First things first, why did you choose Kinderhook as your subject?
Christopher Kline: I’m from a town called Kinderhook, but I lived outside the town since I was 18 and now I’m 35. So, after living away from the town for a while, I started to see my town in a different way. I realised some things that was strange about it, some things that was nice about it, some things that were bad about it.
NA: Can you tell us a brief history of Old Kinderhook and what the musical takes on it?
CK: Really quickly, hmm. The musical begins with a scene called ‘The Beginning of the World’ which traces in 6 minutes goes from about 4 ½ billion years ago up until 30 thousand years ago when the first humans came to Kinderhook, but it wasn’t called Kinderhook then, obviously. It kinda takes on the first moment of the land forming and how that affected the people civilising the area up until today. It goes through the Mohicans, they were the first people living there when the Dutch first made contact and then were pushed out fairly quickly through disease, buying up their land and war. I’ll try to be quicker! We also have President Martin Van Buren who was from the town and probably our most famous resident and his nickname was ‘Old Kinderhook’! He was the president in the 1830s and when he ran for re-election in 1840, the word ‘OK’ was starting to be used a little bit along with a bunch of other similar words which were abbreviation of misspellings in this case it was ‘oll korrect’ and his campaign latched on ‘OK is OK’ and ‘Old Kinderhook is OK’ and that’s when the word OK started becoming very popular. OK was popularised because of the president who was not a very good president! So, that’s the metaphor that I use for the project as a way of symbolising little things that come from small towns that go out into the world and they lose track of it.
NA: What do you want your viewers to take from the musical?
CK: The good thing about the format of a musical as an artwork is that it’s really inclusive for the participants and also for viewers. You can come and see it in the matter of your interest and ability. Some people just want to hear good songs, and I try to make the songs actually good because one of my pet peeves is musicals that have duds. There’s a performance at the end where you will see the scene but you might also want to read more about the history of the various stories. Some of the stories are presented in a very musical, theatrical, spectacular kind of way and some of them are quite dark which deals with imperialism, slavery, the removal of the native people from their lands across the US and just general American history which has darker elements which kids can probably enjoy? Haha.
NA: Is involving the Liverpool community and the community in general a bigger reason you created this type of musical?
CK: I don’t come from musical theatre and I also don’t come from social work, these are all new to me in the past few years. I wanted to find a medium as an artist that fit the content, which is the history of my town. Just to make a painting about it or to make a historical document about it wasn’t really resonating it. I didn’t want to force my own aesthetics on my town or on the people here. I tried a bunch of different things and I found that a musical resonated the most because there are a lot of musical theatres in my town. Because it’s so inclusive, it helps people to be involved in this and have their prospectus inserted into this as it develops over the next few years. On the one hand people can absorb the history of Kinderhook or anywhere easily as a musical format but people can also participate in it.
NA: Do you think people can learn more about Kinderhook more through your musical?
CK: Yeah, because the local history of Kinderhook is usually very positive. But most people outside of the town don’t care about the history so I try to find something that the other people can relate to. I don’t expect people to fall in love with Kinderhook or want to visit but at least they can see our way of working which they can apply to their own town. Where everyone comes from, they should be critical about their town but to also embrace it and not shift your lens.
NA: Is this type of production, involving the community, something you’d like to see more of in the future in terms of other directors/producers and not just you?
CK: Well, yeah! Everyone has to find what their vision is. A lot of people ask me ‘why should I care about Kinderhook?’, well because it’s my town. If I create a musical about Liverpool then it would be forced, like I’m forcing my perception on people which I don’t want to. By bringing my own style, people can see what their own style is and they can use that together. I think working with all kinds of people is great and that people from Blue Room and The Choir with No Name and all these other talented people needs to be heard and it’s really great as an artist to work with them, because artists are often isolated in their studios and you’re just working in your own bubble, but if you’re working with all kinds of people, then you stay grounded and you get a different perspective which is super important. Bringing all these people together and showcasing their work and their creative ideas is important for the future of art.
NA: It takes about a month to produce all of this leading up to the musical, do you think you’ll keep with this style of producing in your future instalments?
CK: Yeah, probably. I’ve done a similar one but a smaller scale in Berlin and another in Denmark so I know how long things take, and we’ll be working hard this month. Depending on what kind of things I’ll be doing, sometimes I do a much smaller installation in Madrid which was just a group show that I made by myself and I used puppets to sing the song and stuff. And I don’t like working with community groups unless the ground work, timing, and the attitude of the curators is right. If I force it to work together, then it wouldn’t be fun anymore. But here, the Tate team has been wonderful.
NA: One last thing, true to the abbreviation of OK, have you taken it to heart and that all is OK in your life?
CK: OK is a funny word, it can mean so many things: it can mean alright, good, fine, a reluctant way of agreeing to something. I kind of like it because it’s not that great of a word, it’s not fantastic and it’s a middle ground kind of word. Personally, in my life, it has been better than OK. But since it came from Old Kinderhook, it’s like Old Kinderhook is OK, it’s not great, it’s not bad, it’s OK.
NA: But, is Kinderhook better than OK?
CK: I say it’s OK! Haha.
Featured Photo Credit: Nikie Azlli
Edited by Mikey McCusker